Does an indoor dog need flea and tick meds?

By Dr. Doug Pernikoff

I was wondering how much longer I needed to continue with flea and tick meds?  My toy poodle, Flygyl, is pretty much a lap dog and only goes outside for the essentials. I have heard various suggestions and just want to be sure I do the right thing.

— Flygyl’s Mom

Don’t be surprised to hear different suggestions, as the ambient weather conditions, along with other considerations like the frequency of outside time, may influence the opportunity for Flygyl to be exposed or re-exposed to fleas, ticks or even mosquitoes.  

As a general rule, administering flea and tick medicines for the first four to five days of continuous frost conditions provides reasonable assurance those pesky parasites will die. Again, you may need to keep looking for adult fleas or flea dirt on your pet.  Remember that fleas lay eggs while on your pet, which typically fall into the house environment. Given adequate temperature and humidity, you may experience a continued flea exposure from an “in the home” flea population.  

An early November treatment to Flygyl, along with regular vacuuming of pet contact surfaces, may also help to provide you and Flygyl a parasite-free setting for late fall and throughout winter.

Dear Dr. Doug,

Chauncey, our 12-year-old, overweight Golden Doodle, loves to be outside, despite what seems like really cold and uncomfortable conditions to us.  I guess my question is, when do we decide to keep him inside?

—Chauncey’s fam

Freezing weather today often brings pleasant Indian summer days to follow.  There are many factors that come to play here. Dogs kept outside through summer and fall day-to- night schedules will transition much better to somewhat sudden drops in temperature-especially those with a heavy coat.  

Chauncey apparently carries extra insulation as you have suggested, further adding to cold weather resistance.  Further, an absolute drop in temperature, even into the 40s or lower, may not be as much of a problem for Chauncey as long as he is shielded from direct moisture and wind.  Common sense would suggest pet owners should not only take note of ambient weather conditions, but also observe pets for signs of discomfort like shivering or more importantly, standing at the door pleading with vocalizations to enter.  

For owners who prefer to keep pets outside the primary living space, consider designating an area of the basement, utility room or possibly the garage to your dog, but be sure to provide fresh water, bedding, and barriers.  Another option is to increase food intake during colder seasons for pets that are obligated to more outside contact.  

The best answer here is to confer with your veterinarian. Always act with common sense and compassion in caring for your beloved family pets.

Dear Dr. Doug,

My kids have noticed that our German shepard, Fritz, is having more trouble getting up and moving around, especially as the weather changes for the worse.  Is this just old dog arthritis?

— Concerned poppa!

Most middle-to-large or giant breed dogs will demonstrate signs similar to what you just described for Fritz, especially as they age. Certainly, a proper physical examination by your vet is the key to understanding all the possible conditions that may influence Fritz’s particular issues.  

Too often, pet owners look to lump a diagnosis into a simple category like “old dog arthritis.”  In medical jargon we refer to that description as a “trash can diagnosis,” without providing due consideration of other more elaborate medical or physical scenarios that may be at play.  

When that history presents, you might expect your veterinarian to suggest a thorough physical review to include radiographs of your dog’s lower back, hips and knees. Conditions like DJD(degenerative joint disease) and arthritic changes in the anatomy of bones and joints will change dramatically, creating pain and weakness, that often present just as you recognized in Fritz.  Don’t forget hip dysplasia in mid-to-giant breeds; and another group of conditions affecting the lower spinal column like disc disease, or boney proliferation fusing consecutive spinal vertebrae, referred to as spondylitis or spondylosis.   The medical, surgical and/or husbandry management of such conditions will vary with the diagnosis.  If surgery is not a consideration or a necessity, dogs like Fritz can often be managed with controlled rest and activity schedules, anti-inflammatory medications, anti-pain drugs and even other nutriceuticals like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates, the latter two which are often combined into treat products or directly into dog food formulations as supplements to encourage healthy cartilage maintenance and more.  

Finally, there are more serious medical conditions that may mimic more generalized symptoms of orthopedic maladies, but in fact, can be life concerning.  Two such syndromes are splenic tumors or extremely low thyroid levels, that may both present only as a dog having trouble rising and moving around, not unlike Fritz.

Precautionary responses tend to prove more useful and typically, less expensive in the long run.   Time to get on it-for Fritz!

Dr. Doug Pernikoff, a local veterinarian who has practiced for more than 30 years, is based in Chesterfield at the Clarkson-Wilson Veterinary Clinic. He can be heard with Frank O’pinion on KTRS radio each Wednesday afternoon.